Anti-Fracking March on Kent City Hall

Feb 11, 2012 – 11:00 am
The Kent Stage
175 E. Main St.
Kent    (Directions)

Anti-Fracking March on Kent City Hall

When: Feb 11 – 11 a.m.

Where: Beginning at the Kent Stage

Ohio high court’s Munroe Falls oil ruling wrongly quashes home rule rights, again: editorial

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The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 4-3 Tuesday that Munroe Falls could not apply local zoning laws to oil and gas drillers. Beck Energy Corp. of Ravenna plans an oil and gas well in the Summit County city. In this 2013 file photo, cattle graze near a massive Nomac drilling rig at a Harrison County well owned by Chesapeake Energy. (Joshua Gunter, The Plain Dealer, File, 2013)

 

The state Supreme Court, siding with the Statehouse oil and gas lobby, has yet again pruned the home rule power of Ohio cities and villages, a decision, be it noted, enabled by an Ohio General Assembly in thrall to special interests.

At issue: A bid by Summit County’s Munroe Falls to use zoning to keep Ravenna-based Beck Energy Corp. from drilling an oil and gas well inside Munroe Falls’ city limits.

In Tuesday’s 4-3 ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that a 2004 state law, signed by then-Gov. Bob Taft, gives the state “sole and exclusive” power to regulate oil and gas production in Ohio.

Lead sponsor of the 2004 law, Substitute House Bill 278, was then-Rep. Thomas Niehaus, a suburban Cincinnati Republican who later became the Ohio Senate’s president. Niehaus is now a Statehouse lobbyist, and among his 20-plus lobbying clients, representing a range of interests including the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, is the Ohio Oil and Gas Association. Among legislators voting “yes” on the Niehaus bill were then-Reps. Keith Faber, a Celina Republican who’s now Senate president, and Jon Husted, Ohio’s secretary of state.

Republican Justice Judith French, writing for the Supreme Court’s majority, said the pivot of the Munroe Falls case is whether the 2004 law and the Ohio Constitution’s home rule amendment “allow the kind of double licensing at issue here” — by Munroe Falls and state government.

“They do not,” French concluded, adding, however, that leaving aside specifics of the Munroe Falls case, it’s “an interesting policy question” whether, as Munroe Falls argued, the state government and municipal governments should share authority over wells, with the state overseeing drilling and operations, and cities and villages determining where drilling’s allowed.

That, French wrote, “is [a question] for our elected representatives in the General Assembly, not the judiciary.”

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Joining French in ruling against Munroe Falls were Republican Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Republican Justices Sharon L. Kennedy and Terence O’Donnell. O’Donnell concurred in the judgment only, not in French’s opinion.

In the high court’s minority, siding with Munroe Falls, were GOP Justices Judith Lanzinger and Paul Pfeifer and Democratic Justice William M. O’Neill.

O’Neill, in his dissent, wrote that hair-splitting over what the 2004 bill did or didn’t allow, or on the possibility the General Assembly might rethink it, dodged a key factor.

“Let’s be clear here,” O’Neill wrote. “The General Assembly has created a zookeeper to feed the elephant in the living room. What the drilling industry has bought and paid for in campaign contributions they shall receive. The oil and gas industry has gotten its way, and local control of drilling-location decisions has been unceremoniously taken away. … Under this ruling, a drilling permit could be granted in the exquisite residential neighborhoods of Upper Arlington, Shaker Heights, or the Village of Indian Hill – local zoning dating back to 1920 be damned.”

Likewise seemingly cast aside is the Ohio Constitution’s Home Rule Amendment, which Ohio voters ratified in 1912 to stop habitual interference by the legislature in the local affairs of cities and villages. Till then, what special interests could not win from city and village councils they won in Columbus, in the General Assembly, with special bills coordinated with such urban bosses as Cincinnati’s George B. Cox and Cleveland’s Marcus A. Hanna.

Problem One, however, is that, as legal commentators have pointed out, the constitution’s home rule provisions aren’t models of clear writing. Problem Two is that Statehouse lobbies have only gotten stronger in recent decades.

So, for example, the General Assembly in 1980 pre-empted the right of localities to regulate the siting of hazardous waste dumps. In 2002, the General Assembly in effect overturned a Cleveland City Council ordinance that sought to regulate predatory lenders more strictly than Ohio law purported to do. In 2006, the General Assembly pre-empted local gun laws. Also in 2006, the legislature outlawed city or village ordinances, like one that Cleveland voters had approved, that required municipal employees to live inside the municipality that employs them.

General Assembly Republicans like to brag that they oppose big government, and believe that those governments are best that are closest to the governed, such as cities and villages. But given the General Assembly’s repeated bids to fetter cities and villages, what legislators really seem to believe is that the best government is one that’s closest to the lobbies — in Columbus.

Replicated only for posterity. All credit goes to The Plain Dealer. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Original article found @http://www.cleveland.com/opinion/index.ssf/2015/02/home_rule_rights_in_ohio_again.html

 

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